The Forum of Chairmen of Health Institutions in Nigeria(FCHIN) has described the ongoing strike by the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors(NARD) as insensitive.
It said that considering its findings that the Federal Government has substantially met the demands of doctors, as well as taking steps to reposition the health sector, the strike does not speak well of the profession whose practitioners swore an oath to save lives.
The Chairman of the Forum, Dr. Sam Jaja who led the leadership of the forum to a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige Friday, in Abuja , said the forum chose a four-pronged approach to resolve the dispute, and frowned at the frequent resort to strike by doctors.
Said Jaja, “ the Committee of Chief Medical Directors(CMDS) briefed us and it is just exactly what you have narrated. All hope was that the meeting of last week where all the affiliates of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) except NARD signed the MOU would resolve the strike. We feel so concerned the strike hasn’t been called off.
“Strike should be the last resort when every other effort has been exhausted in terms of finding solution to whatever the problem is. But for any little thing , you resort to disruption of services; it does not portray the country in good light. It doesn’t also portray the profession in good light, most especially such profession that has to do with the preservation of human lives.
“It makes them(doctors) insensitive and that is not right. For whatever reason , I think we should nip it in the bud. That is what we as a Forum of Chairmen of Health Institutions of Nigeria are in for. We need to find solution to this . It is not good for us and it is not good for them. I bait that as you are solving this problem , others are warming up to start theirs . We can’t allow them to continue. We must find a permanent solution .
“ As the representatives of their employers, we can’t continue to fold our hands over this constant disruption of health services in the country. Our plan was to meet first with the NMA, NARD and the Ministry of Health before coming to you. Incidentally , you are the first to open your doors to us. So , we came to intimate you with our plans. We will return when we round off meeting with them.”
In his response, the Minister of Labour, Senator Ngige again faulted the ongoing strike , describing it as unjustifiable and unwarranted, even as he said the implementation of the MOU signed on August 21 with doctors was on course.
He said government has adopted a holistic approach to tackling the challenges in the health sector , noting that some of the issues in contention cut across sectors. He added that government bent backwards to improve the ease of practice of medicine in the country despite dwindling resources.
“The resident doctors are on the scheme of service against which obtained earlier. There was nothing like that we started practice . Nigeria is also about the only country that has the Medical Residency Training Fund, backed up by an act, Medical Residency Training Act, passed into law by this administration in 2018. N4.8 billion is already in 2021 Service Wide Vote for this – to cover exam fees, books, travel to exam centres and accommodation. We are battling to meet up the timeline on this .
“As a matter of fact, the Residency Training Fund for 2021 is a borrowed fund. It is part of the deficit budget funded by the World Bank and IMF.
“ Now that the President has signed the law governing it, with signatures appended , we can access this fund through the CBN and from there to the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget Office and to the Accountant General of the Federation. But it is not what you achieve in a day. It takes a sometime but these young doctors will hear none of that.
“ Take the issue of hazard allowance. It was even the Federal Government who noticed the paltry sum doctors and health workers receive and said No during the peak of COVID-19 pandemic last year. Considering the dangers they face, government took the bull by the horn, approved and released a jumbo, the sum of N32b as hazard allowance.
“ We felt this is commensurate with the dangers of the pandemic and immediately after, felt the need to re-negotiate and give them something more meaningful than the N5000 they were earning since 20 years and kept quiet. “Now that we have invited for re-negotiation, they turned round to make it an issue, claiming that the process is too slow, meanwhile , they are the ones causing the delay. NMA and JOHESU can’t agree on the table .
“Right now, the two have written me to say they won’t negotiate together again. NMA said that they must compartmentalize into clinical and non-clinical and that the people who are clinical should take more money. JOHESU said no, we don’t want clinical and non-clinical. We have clinical and non-clinical people but the hazard is the same because we are working in the same hospital environment. So , who do you blame for the delay ? Government or doctors and JOHESU ?”
Ngige said all the issues contained in the MOU , ranging from arrears of the consequential adjustment of the National Minimum Wage, Skipping Allowance, Bench fees among others have successfully been tackled at the meeting of 20 and 21 August and all affiliates of the NMA , signed the MOA, with NARD dissenting. NARD wants a particular clause to be inserted in the agreement.
“ That section 43 of the Trade Dispute Act should not apply to them. That we should insert in a Government agreement, that they should be paid for the period they are not at work. I’m being careful about this. This is law and I will not lend myself to illegality, to state in the agreement that a group of Nigerians are above the law. But as a matter of fact, a clause in that agreement states clearly that nobody should be punished for participating or not participating in the strike.
“ So , what else do they want ? They want me put in writing that they are above the law. That No work , No pay should not apply to them. That No work , No pay is no more part of our law, despite the fact that I swore to uphold the constitution ? This is notwithstanding that a clause in the agreement says that no one should be punished for any role in the strike. This is why they refused to sign the MOU and call off the strike and not that government has not substantially meet their demands,” Ngige said.
The Minister further urged the officials in the parent ministries of the unions in perennial strikes to sit up and effectively play their roles.
“ Whether you are talking about ASUU, SSANU, NMA, JOHESU, etc. , their employers are the Federal Ministries of Education and Health respectively. Those Ministries should do their work with their employees. The employers of workers under these unions should take care of them. Here , I’m only a conciliator but the load is much because some people aren’t doing their beat.”